AR 1209-01 Introducing: Rissa and Yari
Wake up! Check on your family!
The dim, greenish-gold light wound its way through his eyelashes, and finally pierced his corneas, jolting him awake. He laid there, in his bed, steadying his chest, listening to his two brothers’ heavy breathing, making sure they were still asleep. This was not the first time he had been woken up by nightmares, and he had a routine to follow. After several minutes, Yari quietly removed the covers of his bed and stood up.
Standing naked in the shadows cast by the dim illumination of the two permanent mage-lights that lit the room he shared with Math and Bran, Yari stretched deeply; then, moving slowly, deliberately, he tip-toed to the door and firmly grasped the knob. Sending a silent prayer to Odin, he asked that the door open easily and not wake his brothers. Mercifully, the door acquiesced the young boy’s wishes, and Yari found himself fully exposed in the hallway of the second floor of the House of Svadilfarsven.
It was really more of a fortress than a house. Measuring fifty-five feet to a side, and raising just over thirty feet into the sky, not to mention the basement filled with provisions, the House of Svadilfarsven could comfortably accommodate at least twenty people indefinitely – and thanks to Yari’s mother, it was doing just about that! This was not a thing the twelve year-old boy knew to complain about; it was just a Thing to him, an accepted part of life. More than that: It was a valued part of life!
One of the first persons his family took in was an orphaned gnomish boy, a baby left on their doorstep years ago, who used the room next to Yari and his brothers. He was almost as much of family to Yari as his own brothers. Yari couldn’t imagine life without his gnomish brother; Tweaker had proven himself valuable and trustworthy time after time. The fact that Sven loved Tweaker as much as he loved own sons only served to cement the point: that little gnome was Family. Also, that little gnome was quickly catching up to Yari in height.
All of the boy’s siblings made fun of him for his short stature; even little Siffles, his baby sister, had recently told him, “Yawi showt!” That made everyone laugh, and even Yari had to smile; she really was adorable. On top of it, Yari didn’t care he was small for his age. He was pretty easygoing about almost everything, and the way he saw it, he still had time to ‘catch up’.
Tweaker’s door was open, and Yari stuck his head in. The smaller room was lit by only one golden-green mage light, and it cast shadows of both beds against the side walls. The tiny form of Tweaker was dimly illuminated in his bed, as was another small body in the other bed. Tweaker occasionally shared a room with Yari’s cousin, Gulbrandr, and both children were slumbering peacefully. Yari smiled and pulled their door around.
Two doors down was his sisters’ room. Rissa, his older twin, and little Siffles should both be safe asleep as well, but Yari quietly opened their door to check anyway, sending up another prayer the hinges behave themselves. The room was the same size as Tweaker’s and Gulbrandr’s, though it sported only one proper bed. Siffles was still small enough to use a crib; and, there she was, cast in that unique golden tint of mage light, sucking her thumb as she slept. Yari’s smile intensified seeing his baby sister like that, content and innocent. He was just about to close the door and go back to his room, assured that everyone was safe and sound, when he realized the room’s one bed was empty.
“Darn it, Rissa!” he cursed under his breath. Closing the door as soundlessly as he could, he moved further down the hallway to the staircase and descended to the first floor.
The ground floor of the House of Svadilfarsven was very open. Its only main features were a great feasting table in the center of the back wall, and a large fireplace surrounded by comfortable chairs and couches opposite the stairs to the second story. The mage lights were extinguished down here, but the fire was burning strongly as ever. It was in this flickering light that Yari found Rissa, fully dressed with a backpack slung over her shoulders, just reaching for the handle of the front door.
“Where are you going, Rissa!” he demanded quietly.
“Out,” she responded sarcastically, a hint of playfulness in her voice.
“You know if you get caught, you’ll get in a lot of trouble. I don’t suppose I can talk you out of this,” he said, not really asking.
“Nope, there’s no way I’m staying home tonight. I don’t care if I get caught,” Rissa paused and smiled. “But I intend not to.” Rissa said opening the door, then without stepping through she shut it again. Rissa turned to her brother, “You’re welcome to come along. But for Asgard’s sake, put some clothes on!”
The boy sighed an ever-suffering sigh, then said, “Fine. Le’me go put on some pants.”
“Hurry up!” Rissa said impatiently, “we’re already late.”
“Late for what?”
“I’ll tell you on the way,” Rissa said impatiently shooing him back upstairs. As Rissa watched Yari disappear, she weighed whether or not to leave without him. She already had to wait forever for her parents to fall asleep, and now she was waiting on her brother to dress. Not only that, but this outing would require no small amount of stealth, and it would be harder for both of them to hide than just her alone.
Be that as it may, she was kind of happy when Yari had caught her. They always made a good team, and it was just natural that he should accompany her. There was the practical matter of if they by some slim chance ran into a wild animal there was safety in numbers. Despite his small frame, Yari was actually getting pretty good at defending himself. Then another, slightly sinister thought crossed her mind. If Yari were an accomplice in her escapade it would make it more likely he wouldn’t tattle to Mom and Daddy; though, knowing him, he might accidentally slip up and tell them anyway. Her brother was sometimes annoyingly, naively honest.
Not that she was overly worried about that; Yari was usually pretty good about keeping quiet. But if, she ditched him, he might rightly be upset. Boys who are upset can be unpredictable.
By contrast, girls who are upset are predictably vengeful. Scorned girls are better backstabbers than even Uncle Scraps. That is one reason why few of Rissa’s friends were girls. Most of the proper girls didn’t want to have much to do with Rissa either, disdaining her for being a tomboy. Maybe it was the fact that, until little Sif came along, Rissa was the only girl in a house full of boys. Or maybe playing with boys was just more fun than doting on dolls and such.
Yari came hurrying back down the stairs, less stealthy than before in his haste. “Okay, ready.”
Rissa held a finger to her mouth and listened for any sounds of people stirring upstairs. Convinced there were none, she opened the door and stepped out into the great big world, with her little twin brother in tow. She skipped across their yard in glee,relishing her freedom and the cool spring air.
As they left the walled yard of the Svadilfarsven estate Yari piped up, “Now can you tell me where we are going?”
“Lord Stanley’s wedding party,” Rissa said.
“Why in the world would you want to go there?” Yari said, feeling rather disappointed in the destination choice. “He doesn’t have kids. It’ll just be a bunch of boring grown-ups.”
“Because I found out that Elwood Flynn is performing at the party,” Rissa said excitedly. Seeing her brother’s lack of enthusiasm Rissa added, “Elwood Flynn is the greatest singer and musician in the valley, maybe the world. I can’t pass up the opportunity to meet him and get his autograph. Sparky Stonerose, eat your heart out!”
Yari shook his head. “How’re you gonna meet this guy? No kids’ll be there, and Lord Stanley isn’t just gonna let you barge in.”
“That’s where you are wrong, brother dear,” Rissa said, proud to reveal the details of her master plan. “There will be a few kids working there, serving food and drink to the guests. Our neighbor Zen is one of them—he’s who told me Elwood Flynn would be there, you see—so, I’m going to take Zen’s place. That will allow me to get up close to Elwood Flynn.” Every time she spoke his name it was with a kind of reverence, like she was talking about a god.
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Yari asked.
“The party is going to be on Lord Stanley’s garden terrace. So, you can hide in the bushes with Zen and still be able to hear the music.”
Yari yawned, and Rissa shook her head again. “See, I knew you wouldn’t care, that’s why I didn’t bother to tell you about this before. Go back home and go to bed then.”
“No, I’m just tired. It’s pretty late.” Besides, Yari thought, there was no way he was going to let his sister get into trouble without backup. That sneaking out was kind of thrilling, even if the reason for their escapade would not have been his first choice, might have played a small part in his tagging along as well.
Upon their arrival at Lord Stanley’s lakeside manor, Rissa laid out the rest of her strategy on how to get through the garden and to the terrace without being seen. She pointed out which walls, hedges, and shrubbery they could use for cover. As they started their approach Yari whispered a prayer to Odin to guide him stealthily through his sister’s plan. Rissa shushed him, “Speaking a prayer to be quiet kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”
“So does running your mouth off with snarky comments,” the boy replied quietly and stuck out his tongue.
“Touché,” Rissa said, “Now shh!”
A few minutes later the pair arrived at their destination without incident. The closer they got the easier it became because the music and singing drowned out the occasional rustling of branches and scraping footsteps. The breeze coming from the lake bore quite a chill, and most the guests seemed to have moved inside the house anyway. Peering from bbehind a hedge, it was not difficult to spot Zen. They waited for the boy to make his way closer. When he did, Rissa picked up a pebble and threw it in his direction. The stone clattered on the tile and Zen took his cue to slip behind the hedge.
“Hi, Zen,” Yari whispered, smiling and waving brightly.
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Hi,” Rissa said impatiently, “Hurry up and strip.” The girl was already pulling down her pants.
Yari’s eyes got wide. “Rissa!” he complained
Rissa whispered back, “It’s part of the plan. I need to wear Zen’s outfit so I look like a serving boy, alright?” She pulled her shirt over her head as Zen was doing the same.
Yari pressed the matter, somewhat pathetically, “But… but you’re a girl!”
“Sheesh, who knew you could be such a prude,” Rissa said now in nothing but her underpants. She gestured to her bare chest, “It’s not like I have boobies yet.”
Yari groaned, and Rissa tossed her backpack to Zen. “Here’s the extra set of clothes you gave me.” Turning toward Yari she explained, “I knew he wouldn’t fit into any of your clothes.” “And I would rather shiver in my underwear than be caught dead in her clothes,” Zen quipped, handing Rissa his trousers.
Rissa was soon dressed. Zen’s clothes were pretty baggy on her, but not so much as to draw attention, she hoped. “Alright, show time.”
Rissa approached, rehearsing her words in her head as she went. “More wine, Mr. Flynn?”
“Yes,” he said, turning to face her and extending his glass. Elwood Flynn was a good-looking half-elven man in his late twenties, with dark wavy hair, a neatly trimmed and pointed van Dyke beard, and a rakishly handsome smile. And he was talking directly to Rissa! She was frozen in awe. “hello, boy, ‘yes’ was an invitation for you to pour.”
“Of course, sorry sir!” Rissa tipped the wine bottle to Flynn’s glass and poured. She could feel the bottle getting slick from her sweaty palms. This was it, she told herself; she had to do it now. “Mr. Flynn, may I get… I mean, if you wouldn’t mind, that is, could I get your autograph?”
Elwood Flynn smiled, “an adoring fan, eh kid? Usually it’s the young ladies that ask for my autograph, but why not?”
“Oh, it’s not for me, it’s for my sister,” Rissa said, “you know those girls and their autographs.” She rolled her eyes for added measure.
Elwood looked at the fake serving boy for a moment, then said with a smirk and a nod, “Yeah, I know girls. So do you have a book, or something?”
“Yes!” Rissa said a little more enthusiastically than she should have. She pulled her journal from her jacket pocket and handed it over. “You can address it to Arissa”.
“Arissa…” Elwood said pondering, “and what’s your name, lad?”
“I’m Yari, uh, I’m Jarl Hastae,” Rissa said, extending her hand, trying to mimic the way her brother would introduce himself to adults.
Elwood grasped Rissa’s hand firmly. “Well met Jarl Hastae, brother of Arissa. Perchance would your parents be Sven and Kara Odinson, champions of the Gods’ War?” Seeing the surprise on Rissa’s face he continued, “I will take that look on your face as a yes. Your parents are quite famous, you know, and I make it a point to learn who the famous and important people are wherever I go. Now, tell me something of your sister, so I can personalize this autograph. What does Arissa like?”
“Oh, she likes music and singing, any sort of performing for an audience, really,” Rissa beamed. Elwood Flynn actually cared what she liked! Most famous people who she and Sparky would approach for autographs hardly talked to them at all and just scribbled on the paper something that barely resembled writing. Rissa continued, “She already knows how to play the flute, our Dad taught us, and she’d like to learn to play the lute like you. She wants to be a bard someday. Just like you.”
“Magnificent! Although with such small hands, Arissa might try the mandolin instead. It is played similar to the lute but is a smaller instrument and easier to handle.” The musician paused a moment to compete his signature with a flourish of ink below the ‘y’ of his last name. “And tell me, what does Jarl want to do when he grows up?”
Rissa said with indifference, “Oh he wants to be a paladin or cleric of Odin and save the world or something.”
Elwood laughed. “Is that so? Well, here is your signature book back, my dear Arissa.”
“Jarl,” Rissa said trying to keep up her cover, even though she knew it was blown. She silently cursed herself.
“Girl, it’s not easy to trick a trickster. Although,” Elwood paused tapping his chin with his finger, “for a moment there you almost had me fooled that you were a boy. Bravo on the performance. You know, the Milinar Playhouse will be putting on its spring theatre series soon, staring yours truly. I know we have a role or two for young girls. I’m sure I can get a budding actress like you cast. Think you would like to be in a play?”
Arissa couldn’t believe her ears. “Yes! You bet I would!”
“Do you think you can play a convincing girl?” Elwood asked with deadpan seriousness.
“Um, yeah,” Rissa said, “I am a girl.”
“Mr. Flynn!” Rissa spun around to see the portly figure of Lord Stanley approaching, waving his sausage-like finger in the air. “Hasn’t your break been long enough? I am paying you quite handsomely to entertain my guests with music, not to flirt with young serving boys. And as for you, lad,” he pointed his thick digit at Rissa, “your job is to serve wine. It’s not that hard. I just passed half a dozen of my guests with empty glasses. Get to work, both of you!”
From the hedges Zen slapped his face with the palm of his hand. He whispered to Yari, “Your sister is going to get me in trouble.”
Yari nodded sympathetically. “Yeah, she does that.”